East Asia Theater
"Citizen journalists" and "netizens" in China who are critical of the government's handling of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak are apparently being "disappeared." Winning most attention are two cases from Wuhan, infamously the epicenter of the outbreak. Wuhan businessman Fang Bin was posting videos to YouTube (presumably through a VPN) to "report on the actual situation here," with one on Feb. 1 seeming to show eight corpses piled in a minibus outside a hospital, going viral. On Feb. 9, he posted a 13-second video with the words "All people revolt—hand the power of the government back to the people." After that, the account went silent. The other is Chen Qiushi, a human rights lawyer turned video journalist who built a reputation through his coverage of the Hong Kong protests last year and in late January traveled to Wuhan to report on the situation. He visited hospitals in the stricken city, looking at the desperate conditions and speaking with patients. Then, on Feb. 7, a video was shared on his Twitter account (currently managed by a friend) featuring his mother, who said he had gone missing the day before. His friend, Xu Xiaodong, later claimed in a YouTube video that he had been forcibly quarantined. (BBC News, Feb. 14)
Following a bitter campaign dominated by "fake news" generated from China and punctuated by sexist personal attacks on President Tsai Ing-wen, the incumbent was re-elected in the Jan. 11 race, overwhelmingly defeating her main challenger, Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang (KMT). Tsai, of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), received 8.17 million votes, or some 57% of the total, to Han's 5.52 million votes, or 39%. A third candidate, James Soong of the People First Party (PFP), garnered 608,590 votes, or 4.26%. Tsai's total was the highest ever recorded for any candidate in a presidential election in Taiwan.
Over a dozen Chinese lawyers and activists were detained or went missing in the final days of 2019, in a crackdown targeting participants who attended a private pro-democracy gathering in the coastal city of Xiamen, Fujian province, rights groups reported Jan. 2. The meeting had been called to discuss a "democratic transition in China," said Human Rights Watch researcher Wang Yaqiu. The period around Christmas and New Year is traditionally when Beijing chooses to arrest or sentence prominent dissidents in an effort to minimize international media attention, "so it is not a surprise that they chose this particular time to launch a manhunt of activists," Wang said. The meeting involved a small group of people "peacefully discussing politics in a private space," she said.
Lifelong Taiwanese independence activist Su Beng died in Taipei Sept. 20, just a few weeks away from his 101st birthday. A resistance fighter against the Japanese during World War II, he subsequently became an underground militant who plotted against the dictatorship of Chiang Kai-shek. After being forced into exile in Tokyo, he wrote his history of Taiwan, an openly partisan work with an anti-imperialist perspective, and became a vocal advocate for democracy in his island home, and its formal independence from China. He returned to Taiwan with the democratic transition of the 1990s, where he continued to agitate for independence, eventually becoming a respected advisor to current President Tsai Ing-wen.
Amnesty International on Sept. 20 demanded an investigation based upon findings of human rights abuses including torture by the Hong Kong police. Amnesty's report focuses on police brutality during arrests stemming from recent mass protests. Interviews of arrested persons and their lawyers by Amnesty revealed that while police violence most commonly occurred before and during arrest, in several cases detained protesters have also been severely beaten in custody and suffered other ill-treatment amounting to torture.
Protesters are rejecting what they call Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam's "fake concession," with the demonstrations now in their fourteenth straight week. Contrary to widespread media reports, Lam's supposed "withdrawal" of the extradition bill is actually only a promise to withdraw it when the Legislative Council reconvenes next month—with no date yet set. Lam refused the other four demands of the current unprecedented mass movement: repudatiation of the term "riots" for the protests (with "riot" charges carrying a 10-year prison term); an independent investigation into police brutality during the demonstrations; release of all detained protesters, and the dropping of all charges; and "universal suffrage" in elections of the chief executive and Legislative Council. (Nikkei Asian Review, The Villager)
In Episode 39 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg explores the politics of the Hong Kong protests—and especially how they have been playing out in New York's Chinatown. It is natural that the Hong Kong protesters have made common cause with the Tibetans, Uighurs and Mongols also struggling for their rights and dignity against China's ruling party-state. But some supporters of these movements have come to embrace a separatist position, actually seeking independent states in Hong Kong, Tibet, East Turkistan and South Mongolia. This position inevitably raises certain contradictions. Will self-determination for these regions and peoples be possible without active solidarity with the struggles for democracy and political empowerment by the Han Chinese majority of the People's Republic? Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
Hong Kong riot police used tear-gas, rubber bullets and water cannon to disperse protesters as tens of thousands marched in the city Aug. 31, defying a ban. Police fired live rounds over the heads of the crowd as "warning shots" in Causeway Bay. Some protesters set fires and threw Molotov cocktails and bricks at police lines. TV news footage showed riot police beating people with their batons inside commuter-train cars at Prince Edward station, with many passengers seen to be cowering and bleeding. In a first for Hong Kong, police water-cannon trucks fired dyed water at protesters near government headquarters in an effort to identify those who fled for later arrest. The Civil Human Rights Front, a coalition of around 50 pro-democracy groups, had cancelled a march scheduled for that day in response to the government ban, but many organizations pledged to carry on anyway—with some calling the march a "religious" procession in a bid to evade the ban. (HKFP, BBC News, NPR)